Suffering, Compassion, Renewal
by Robert Kyr
In a modern context, the word “passion” suggests strong emotion or desire. However, the word derives from Latin—passio—and even more distantly, from Greek—pascho, pathos, pathema—meaning “to suffer.” In the latter sense, it relates to “the passion”—the gospel narrative of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament.
For anyone who has read all of the canonical gospels, it comes as no surprise that the evangelists have considerably different ways of telling the story of the Christ, especially as it relates to his immense suffering and death on the cross. Consider the fact that no single gospel contains all of the “Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross”, but in fact, one must put the four stories together in order to receive and ponder the final utterances of Jesus. It is not so much that the stories differ, but that they complement and complete each other in unexpected and unpredictable ways that reveal truths beyond the boundaries of any single account.
Over the next two weeks, Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare will take us on an extraordinary journey that will also take us beyond such boundaries. We will explore the lives of individuals who suffered intensely, and whose experiences offer us a chance to understand the human condition in new and life-transforming ways.
Together, we will explore the suffering of Jesus in relationship to the universal suffering imposed upon us by war, in this case through the American Civil War and World War I, as revealed by John Muehleisen in his oratorio, Pieta. And we will discover radically different ways of telling and understanding the passion story through A Gnostic Passion by the Balliett Brothers. Finally, we will consider the life and suffering of Matthew Shepard through Craig’s own music and personal exploration of this theme. And at the end of our journey, Bach will be there to greet us through his sublime St. Matthew Passion… How will we hear it in light of these preceding musical experiences? What new meanings will be revealed?
None of these works are abstract reflections on the nature of a remote kind of “suffering at a distance,” but this music propels us into the heart of the human condition. While we are connected through the universal experience of suffering, it also presents us with an opportunity: to develop compassion for each other, and ultimately, to abandon anguish and despair for hope and new life.